Okkervil River, Stars Too Small to Use (Jound)
Reviewed by Christopher Hess, Fri., Dec. 3, 1999
Stars Too Small to Use (Jound)In this age of syrupy-sensitive singer-songwriters and prettified cookie-cutter country superstars, we tend to forget that folk and country music used to be creepy -- scary even. Austin trio Okkervil River remind us of this fact, as the group's visceral folk music kidnaps Will Oldham and Michael Gira and forces them on a midnight excursion to exhume the graves of Leadbelly and Nick Drake. The frantic avant-country of "Kathy Keller" heightens the effect of the dour and plodding "The Velocity of Saul at the Time of His Conversion," and from there the mood descends. The lyrical allusions and phrases that punch through the wall of acoustic speculation are harsh and puzzling, abrasive and bracing. There's lots of smarts in these songs. The only drawback is that, like the Palace contingent, however undeniable the passion and intelligence behind the songs, it's not always the most enjoyable music to listen to -- not because it's too scary, but because the commendable ideas that build the songs, exemplified in the breakdown at the end of "For the Captain," are often more ambition than realization. Stars Too Small to Use, however, is a debut that doesn't allow for a passive listen -- and there's certainly no abundance of that in folk music these days.